Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Students’ Rights: What the Supreme Court Said So Far

by Earl Guen Quiñones Padayao | January 11, 2022

Our experience of online distance learning posed very serious students’ rights concerns. Ranging from questionable academic practices, abusive professors or instructors, unresponsive administrators, weird and untimely school policies, and the list goes on. With our various struggles as students, I think it pays well to know the Philippines’ legal consciousness of students’ rights. Indeed, we can better protect our students’ rights if we know them. Thus, this article will attempt to present this legal consciousness through the lens of what the Supreme Court had ruled in the past. It is submitted that exploration or survey of jurisprudence will offer wisdom on how our laws see and interpret students’ rights.

At the onset, it is observable that students’ rights discussions are spread across cases concerning matters of various import. Most of the time, students’ rights are discussed concerning sources like the 1987 Constitution and the Civil Code.

  1. Students’ rights vs. school rights

This exploration must start with the case of Alcuaz which provides an important lens in looking at the relationship dynamics between students’ rights and school rights, i.e. to admit, to discipline, among others.

The Supreme Court said that their relationship is not ordinary, but infused with the public interest. Justice Cortes’ ponencia was very clear: “the contract between the school and students is not an ordinary contract. It is imbued with the public interest, considering the high priority given by the Constitution to education.”[1]

However, this contract may be avoided just like any other contractual undertakings. In the 1983 case of Magtibay v. Garcia, the Supreme Court clarified that once a student commits a serious breach of discipline or fails to maintain the required academic standard, he forfeits his contractual right to a fair opportunity to complete the course he seeks to pursue. In the words of Justice Escolin: “when a student commits a serious breach of discipline or fails to maintain the required academic standard, he forfeits his contractual right; and the court should not review the discretion of university authorities.” (emphasis supplied)[2]

  1. Students’ rights enjoy great intimacy with constitutional rights

With the lead of Justice Cortez’s formulation in Alcuaz, it is observed that students’ rights enjoy great intimacy with constitutional rights. This is supported by other rulings of the Supreme Court. For example, it is settled that a student enjoys constitutional rights inside schools. In other words, a student does not shed his or her constitutional rights at the halls of academia. This is the doctrine from the en banc decision of Malabanan v. Ramento.[3] The case involved petitioners who were officers of the Supreme Student Council of respondent Gregorio Araneta University Foundation. In ruling about petitioner’s invocation of their right to peaceable assembly and free speech, Chief Justice Fernando wrote:

“They enjoy like the rest of the citizens the freedom to express their views and communicate their thoughts to those disposed to listen in gatherings such as was held in this case. They do not, to borrow from the opinion of Justice Fortas in Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District, ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.’ While, therefore, the authority of educational institutions over the conduct of students must be recognized, it cannot go so far as to be violative of constitutional safeguards.” (emphasis supplied)

  1. Students’ right to due process

Without questions, students also enjoy the due process. One illustrative case about students’ right to due process is Non v. Dames. In this case, the Supreme Court clarified that procedural due process is enjoyed by students before being sanctioned by schools. In effect, sanctions cannot be arbitrary, oppressive, and dismissive of rights.

The minimum standards of students’ right to due process are the following:

  1. The students must be informed in writing of the nature and cause of any accusation against them.
  2. The students shall have the right to answer the charges against them, with the assistance of counsel, if desired.
  3. The students shall be informed of the evidence against them.
  4. The students shall have the right to adduce evidence on their own behalf.
  5. The evidence must be duly considered by the investigating committee or official designated by the school authorities to hear and decide the case.[4]
  6. The penalty imposed must be proportionate to the offense committed.[5]
  1.  Students’ right to redress of grievances for academic matters

The Supreme Court also had the occasion to set limits on students’ right to redress of grievances for academic matters. In one case where the school refused to admit students because of heated controversies, acts of misbehavior, and a refusal to dialogue with the school administration, the Supreme Court demarcated the line between students’ valid and invalid redress of grievances:

“We have consistently sustained the rights of students to legitimately address their grievances both to school authorities, media, and the general public to the extent of sometimes countenancing uncivil and rowdy behavior. However, we have not hesitated to strike down violence and anarchy when certain students and their inevitable supporters misuse the grant of ordered liberty mandated by the Constitution.”[6]

In this light, Justice Cruz enunciated his fear that students’ right to express grievance could offend administrators who would, in turn, use academic freedom[7] to deny these students further admission. In his dissent in the case of Tan v. Court of Appeals,  the Justice said:

“My fear is that in exercising such rights, he may offend the sensibilities of the school and consequently become persona non grata. Shall we, following the said doctrine, sustain the school when it refuses him re-admission for the sake of peace on the campus? I submit that in this and similar cases –– including the case at bar –– the academic freedom of the school to choose its students should not be stretched beyond its constitutional limits.” (emphasis supplied)[8]

  1. Academic freedom is enjoyed by students as well

It also appears that academic freedom is enjoyed by students as well. Justice Romero in the ponencia of Ateneo de Manila University v. Capulong cited passages of the deliberations of the Commissioners of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, viz:

“Commissioner Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon asked: ‘When we speak of the sentence “academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning,” do we mean that academic freedom shall be enjoyed by the institution itself?’

Azcuna replied: “Not only that, it also includes . . . .’ Gascon finished off the broken thought, — ‘the faculty and the students.’ Azcuna replied: ‘Yes.’”[9][10]

However, the idea of including students in academic freedom is something that does not sit well with the Commission on Human Rights’ officials in the year 2000. Chairperson Aurora P. Reciña and her commissioners signed a position paper citing the case of Garcia, reading in relevant part:

“It would be a poor prospect for academic freedom if universities had to rely on the literal interpretation of their constitutions in order to acquire for their academic members, control of the four (4) functions which are laid on the shoulders of the government body. It is the business of a university to provide that atmosphere which is most conducive to speculation, experiment, and creation. It is an atmosphere in which there prevail the four essential freedoms of a university — to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.” (emphasis supplied)[11]

  1. Students’ rights and student activism to enforce academic demands

Furthermore, a survey of jurisprudence would reveal that any conversation about students’ rights must necessarily involve the matter of student activism and its limitations in law. Indeed, student activism has been at the forefront in the advocacy of securing students’ rights in the Philippines.

Nothing is more fundamental than activism inside academia — where ideas, dissent, and reform are matters of daily conversations. However, student activism is taken with many reservations by the magistrates of the Supreme Court. The separate opinions in the case of Sta Maria are illustrative of this observation. The case is rich in legal musings on the limits of student activism vis-à-vis the enforcement of academic demands.

Justice Fernando’s concurring opinion noted that the “beneficial results that could be expected of student activism, expressed at times with more vehemence than the occasion would call for, might not come to pass if the boundaries of legally permissible conduct are overstepped.”[12] In the same case, Justice Barredo’s opinion inquired into the propriety of student boycotts, which he labeled as a “riotous situation,” viz:

“what should concern Us [the Supreme Court] is whether or not there was enough substantial basis in the demands of the students to warrant remedial measures by the university authorities within the confines of the Constitution and the settled principles of free, speech vis-a-vis the interest of the service and the accomplishment of the ends of university education which is exactly what the students are there for. Stated differently, with or without student riots if the demands of the demonstrators were flimsy and capricious, the respondents should have firmly stood their ground. On the other hand, with or without such show of force, the university administration has the power and, indeed, the duty to take adequate legal steps to meet the situation with emergency measures that will pave the way for ultimate permanent solutions more or less acceptable to all reasonable men.”[13] (emphasis supplied)

  1. Students’ right to assemble and speak in schools

In 1984, seeing the imperative to lay down clear guidelines on the exercise of the students’ right to assemble and speak in schools, the Supreme Court ruled that:

“The rights to peaceable assembly and free speech are guaranteed students of educational institutions. Necessarily, their exercise to discuss matters affecting their welfare or involving public interest is not to be subjected to previous restraint or subsequent punishment unless there be a showing of a clear and present danger to a substantive evil that the state, has a right to present. As a corollary, the utmost leeway and scope is accorded the content of the placards displayed or utterances made. The peaceable character of an assembly could be lost, however, by an advocacy of disorder under the name of dissent, whatever grievances that may be aired being susceptible to correction through the ways of the law. If the assembly is to be held in school premises, permit must be sought from its school authorities, who are devoid of the power to deny such request arbitrarily or unreasonably. In granting such permit, there may be conditions as to the time and place of the assembly to avoid disruption of classes or stoppage of work of the non-academic personnel. Even if, however, there be violations of its terms, the penalty incurred should not be disproportionate to the offense.”[14]

  1. When admission or enrollment is a privilege not a right

Another key controversy in academia is whether enrollment or admission is a right or a privilege. This was resolved in the case of Non insofar as higher education is concerned. It was clarified that collegiate admission or enrollment is not a right but a mere privilege. Thus, a petition for mandamus would not prosper to compel a higher education institution to admit a student: “a clear legal right must first be established for a petition for mandamus to prosper (Sec. 3, Rule 65). It being a mere privilege and not a legal right for a student to be enrolled or reenrolled, respondent Mabini College is free to admit or not admit the petitioners for re-enrollment in view of the academic freedom enjoyed by the school.”[15] Non cited two cases of similar breath: Garcia vs. Faculty Admission Committee[16] and Tangonan v. Judge Paño.[17] 

It is worth noting that while higher education enrollment is a privilege, there is reason to believe that basic education enrollment is a right. While the Supreme Court has not ruled so, the rule could be gleaned from Congress’ declared policy in Republic Act 9155 otherwise known as the Governance of Basic Education Act of 2001. It reads:

“It is hereby declared the policy of the State to protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality basic education and to make such education accessible to all by providing all Filipino children a free and compulsory education in the elementary level and free education in the high school level.”

The 1987 Constitution also presents the same view by making elementary education compulsory. Article XIV, Section 2 (2) says in relevant part: “elementary education is compulsory for all children of school age.”

9. Students’ rights in classrooms and other areas of the campus

As to the question of whether there is a difference between students’ rights enjoyed inside the classroom and other areas of the campus, the Supreme Court implies there is none. In Malabanan, the ponencia of Justice Fortas of the United States Supreme Court case was cited by Chief Justice Fernando saying that the former’s opinion is persuasive. The case quoted in toto:

“A student’s rights, therefore, do not embrace merely the classroom hours. When he is in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours, he may express his opinions, even on controversial subjects like the conflict in Vietnam, if he does so without ‘materially and substantially interfering with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school’ and without colliding with the rights of others. … But conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason — whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior — materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.”[18]

The above passage speaks of the wide latitude of rights, especially that of free speech, enjoyed by students inside the campus, not only inside the classroom but in other areas of the school as well.

10. Students’ rights and the abuse of rights doctrine

Tort jurisprudence about the doctrine of abuse of rights is also rich in juxtapositions of students’ rights and schools’ rights — with some cases leading to the award of damages. Tort jurisprudence on students’ rights arises from the basic tenet that “the school-student relationship is contractual in nature.”[19] As ruled in the case of Regino v. Pangasinan Colleges of Science and Technology, such student-school contractual relationship gives rise to reciprocal obligations and consequences appurtenant to and inherent in all contracts of such kinds — it gives rise to bilateral rights and obligations. Thus, the bilateral nature of the relationship was explained in this manner: “For its part, the school undertakes to provide the student with an education that would presumably suffice to equip him with the necessary tools and skills to pursue higher education or a profession. On the other hand, the student covenants to abide by the school’s academic requirements and observe its rules and regulations.”[20]

11. Students’ right to information

On the right to information, one illustrative ruling is one filed for damages by Romeo Jader against the University of the East. We can infer from the decision that a student has the right to be informed of his academic standing and the school has a duty to apprise him of the same. Justice Ynares-Santiago’s ponencia is clear: “Educational institutions are duty-bound to inform the students of their academic status and not wait for the latter to inquire from the former. The conscious indifference of a person to the rights or welfare of the person/persons who may be affected by his act or omission can support a claim for damages.”[21]

12. Students’ right to a secure and peaceful campus

In the case of Baustista, it could be gleaned that a student enjoys the right to a secure and peaceful campus. Talking about this case, Professor of Law Timoteo Aquino[22] commented that a school’s liability for damages could arise from a contract where a third-year student was stabbed to death while on the premises of the Philippine School of Business Administration (PSBA). The Supreme Court said:

“institutions of learning must also meet the implicit or built-in obligation of providing their students with an atmosphere that promotes or assists in attaining its primary undertaking of imparting knowledge. Certainly, no student can absorb the intricacies of physics or higher mathematics or explore the realm of the arts and other sciences when bullets are flying or grenades exploding in the air or where there looms around the school premises a constant threat to life and limb. Necessarily, the school must ensure that adequate steps are taken to maintain peace and order within the campus premises and to prevent the breakdown thereof.” (emphasis supplied)

In that case, however, the Supreme Court made a very clear qualification that the school “cannot be an insurer of its students against all risks.” Thus, while it appears that a student is entitled to a right to a safe and peaceful campus — the school is not expected to insure against all risks. In this light, the court said: “It would not be equitable to expect of schools to anticipate all types of violent trespass upon their premises, for notwithstanding the security measures installed, the same may still fail against an individual or group determined to carry out a nefarious deed inside school premises and environs. Should this be the case, the school may still avoid liability by proving that the breach of its contractual obligation to the students was not due to its negligence, here statutorily defined to be the omission of that degree of diligence which is required by the nature of the obligation and corresponding to the circumstances of persons, time and place.”

Other tort cases also illustrate that a student enjoys the right to a safe educational environment. Otherwise stated, away from exposure to danger. In Ylarde v. Aquino,[23] a teacher was made liable for damages for exposing a student to danger. In this case, a teacher directed students to dig a pit to bury concrete blocks which were remnants of an old school building. An incident occurred while the student Ylarde was in the pit. The concrete blocks fell on him and pinned him to the wall of the pit, causing injuries that eventually caused his death. In another case, a pre-school student fell down three stories as he attempted to escape a small toilet where he was trapped. The Supreme Court ruled that the liability of the school is primary and direct as it has an obligation to provide safe facilities for students. In this case, the school “failed to provide precautionary measures to avoid harm and injury to its students in two instances: (1) failure to fix a defective door knob despite having been notified of the problem; and (2) failure to install safety grills on the window where Timothy fell from.” As such, the schools’ “liability is under Article 2176 of the Civil Code, premised on the fact of its own negligence in not ensuring that all its doors are properly maintained.”[24]    

From the foregoing, it could be observed that students’ rights are spread across jurisprudence. Indeed, there is an existing legal consciousness about students’ rights. This consciousness emanates from sources like the Constitution and statutes like the Civil Code. However, it must be observed that no case cited a charter or Magna Carta which is specifically designed to address students’ rights — because such charter does not exist.


Earl Guen Quiñones Padayao is a young academian and students’ rights advocate. He is a 3rd year Juris Doctor student at Silliman University – College of Law and the incumbent president of the Salonga Center for Law and Development. In addition, he teaches college-level philosophy subjects at Bukidnon State University (Malaybalay City) and previously taught at Negros Oriental State University (Dumaguete City). He was also a legal intern at the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor — Cotabato. He finished college with Latin Honor (cum laude), harboring a 1.25 or 97% Grade Point Average (GPA), and graduated as salutatorian during high school. He also studied environmental leadership at Northern Illinois University, U.S.A. as an international exchange student.

He is a recipient of multiple local and national recognitions — including the prestigious Mga Bagong Rizal Award of the Philippine Center for Gifted Education. He is a decorated youth leader and a reputable parliamentary debate adjudicator — with multiple medals during his prime. He occupied various positions in socio-civic and academic organizations in both Visayas and Mindanao.


References

[1] Sophia Alcuaz, et al. vs. Philippine School of Business Administration, Quezon City Branch (PSBA), et al., G.R. No. 76353, May 2, 1988, available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1988/may1988/gr_76353_1988.html (last visited November 2, 2021).

[2] Magtibay v. Garcia and Javier, G.R. No. L-28971, January 28, 1983, available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1983/jan1983/gr_l_28971_1983.html (last visited December 24, 2021).

[3] Malabanan v. Ramento, G.R. No. 62270, 129 SCRA 359, May 21, 1984, available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1984/may1984/gr_l62270_1984.html (last visited November 2, 2021).

[4] Standards 1 to 5 are from the case of Guzman vs. National University, 142 SCRA 706-707 (1986).

[5] Standard 6 is from the case of Malabanan v. Ramento, G.R. No. 62270, May 21, 1984, 129 SCRA 359

[6] Tan V. Court Of Appeals, G.R. No. 97238, THE LAWPHIL PROJECT (1991), available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1991/jul1991/gr_97238_1991.html (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[7] In Garcia v. The Faculty of Admission Committee, the Supreme Court mentioned the President of the Queen’s University in Belfast, Sir Eric Ashby, who said: “‘The internal conditions for academic freedom in a university are that the academic staff should have de facto control of the following functions: (i) the admission and examination of students; (ii) the curricula for courses of study; (iii) the appointment and tenure of office of academic staff; and (iv) the allocation of income among the different categories of expenditure. It would be a poor prospect for academic freedom if universities had to rely on the literal interpretation of their constitutions in order to acquire for their academic members’ control of these four functions, for in one constitution or another most of these functions are laid on the shoulders of the law governing body .'” Sinco, Philippine Political Law, 490-491 (1962).

[8] Id.

[9] A ConCom Record, p. 439.

[10] Ateneo De Manila University, et al. v. Hon. Capulong G.R. No. 99327, May 27, 1993, available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1993/may1993/gr_99327_1993.html#rnt40 (last visited November 2, 2021).

[11] Ranjit Ramos Shahani, et.al, House Bill Nos. 180, 4003, and 6174, February 18, 2000, available at http://chr.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Position-Paper-on-HB-Providing-for-a-Magna-Carta-of-Students.pdf (last visited November 2, 2021).

[12] J. Fernando, concurring opinion. Felixberto C. Sta. Maria V. Salvador P. Lopez, et. al., G.R. No. L-30773, THE LAWPHIL PROJECT (1970), available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1970/feb1970/gr_30773_1970.html (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[13] J. Barredo, concurring and dissenting. Felixberto C. Sta. Maria V. Salvador P. Lopez, et. al., G.R. No. L-30773, THE LAWPHIL PROJECT (1970), available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1970/feb1970/gr_30773_1970.html  (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[14] Crispin Malabanan, et al. V. Honorable Anastacio D. Ramento, G.R. No. L-62270, THE LAWPHIL PROJECT (1984), available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1984/may1984/gr_l62270_1984.html (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[15] Non, Et. Al. V. Hon. Sancho Danes II, G.R. No. 89317, May 20, 1990, available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1990/may1990/gr_89317_1990.html (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[16] Garcia v. The Faculty Admission Committee, et al., G.R. L-40779, November 28, 1975, available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1975/nov1975/gr_40779_1975.html (last visited November 2, 2021).

[17] Tangonan v. Hon. Judge Paño, G.R. L-45157, June 27, 1985, available at  https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1985/jun1985/gr_l45157_1985.html#rnt24 (last visited November 2l, 2021).

[18]  Crispin Malabanan, et al. v. Honorable Anastacio D. Ramento, G.R. No. L-62270, May 21, 1984, available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1984/may1984/gr_l62270_1984.html (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[19] Timoteo B. Aquino, Torts and Damages (2019) citing Regino v. Pangasinan Colleges of Science and Technology, page 260

[20] Philippine School Of Business Administration, et. al v. Court Of Appeals, et. al., G.R. No. 84698, THE LAWPHIL PROJECT (1992), available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1992/feb1992/gr_84698_1992.html (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[21]  University Of The East, v. Romeo A. Jader, G.R. No. 132344, THE LAWPHIL PROJECT (2000), available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri2000/feb2000/gr_132344_2000.html (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[22] Timoteo B. Aquino, Torts and Damages (2019) citing Philippine School of Business Administration (PSBA) v. Court of Appeals, page. 260

[23] Federico Ylarde, et al. v. Edgardo Aquino, et al., G.R. No. L-33722, THE LAWPHIL PROJECT (1988), available at https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1988/jul1988/gr_l_33722_1988.html (last visited November 2, 2021). 

[24] Child Learning Center, Inc., et. al. v. Timothy Tagario, G.R. NO. 150920, CHAN ROBLES VIRTUAL LAW LIBRARY (2005), available at https://www.chanrobles.com/cralaw/2005novemberdecisions.php?id=1366  (last visited November 2, 2021). 

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